Combating Solar Gain With An ecobee3

The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com
The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com

I last wrote about the new ecobee3 smart thermostat in an article titled ‘ecobee 3 Room Sensors Fail‘ and in it I took a deliberate swipe at people who are confusing the ecobee3 remote sensors as a zoning system.

ecobee 3 has marketed the remote sensors as a means to keep the rooms you live in more comfortable but some have taken that to mean it can heat rooms that are poorly ducted or suffer from an inadequate air conditioner or furnace.

The ecobee3 can not fix an over heated or an under heated room due to a poor system installation. Period.

It can however help with an age-old problem that has also been discussed before on this site, solar gain. In my home my ecobee3 is installed in my dining room and the room we spend most of our time in is our living room. The obstacle is two-fold. First off I could care less what the temperature in my dining room is since me and my family only go in that room 3 times a year for holidays. Secondly why is it dictating the temperature in my home?

The room we spend 70% of our day the living room is wall to wall glass and is heated with the REHAU RAUPanel system. So on the very sunny days this room becomes extremely hot but my thermostat in the dining room just keeps pumping heat into the room since it can not actually see the operative air temperature in my living room. Up until now I had no simple out of the box solution to fix this.

The ecobee 3 is my new simple solution.

Included with the thermostat is a wireless remote sensor which enables me to in under 10 seconds setup monitoring of a specific room in my house. The sensor not only monitors temperature but can tell occupancy.

By placing the ecobee 3 wireless remote sensor in the living room and setting it to average the temperatures between the remote sensor and my dining room thermostat I have a bit better control over the solar gain that is happening in the room. Even more significant because the sensor also has a motion detector built into it the device will turn my heating / cooling on or off whenever the room is occupied by me or my family.

This is a perfect use case for the remote sensor because I am not trying to overcome a heating or cooling system problem I am trying to solve an environmental issue of lots of sun over heating the room. Those of you who think you can make your back porch warm with a remote sensor need to leave well enough alone and hire a contractor but for those looking to combat solar gain or even make a well ducted room a bit warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer the ecobee 3 is for you.

The ecobee 3 comes with 1 free remote sensor and they also will sell you sensors in packs of two in case you decide to use them in other rooms.

Why I am Removing My Low Flow Shower Head

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Last weekend I decided to go green and install a low flow shower head in my master bedroom. It was an easy decision since the city supplied me with a low flow shower head at no charge. Unfortunately it has had less than impressive results on a front I did not expect.

This 5 minute project to install a low flow MOEN shower head  will save me $94.00 a year and on top of that it will save 2,993 gallons of water every year making me such a green fellow. You can read about all the math and how it works in my previous article.

I will be removing this MOEN low flow shower head for one simple reason, its horrible. The shower head drops our water flow from 2.5gpm to 1.5gpm and my wife complained almost immediately she was not able to wash her hair properly. Initially my response was ‘oh come on’ but after a week even I have had enough of it.

The lack of water pressure is making our normally ‘strong hot morning showers’, long,dreary and depressing hot showers. I compare it to a warm drizzle dripping down my back and it is frankly unbearable and depressing.

I am all for conserving and saving water but it is absolutely not the right choice when it causes issues with my wife and more importantly makes my nice hot morning shower a joke with a bad punch line.

The important thing to note here is that I am not giving up on water consumption I am just going to save water without the inconvenience of a miserable shower. After I install my 2.5gpm RAIN shower head this weekend I am going to install a Smart Plus Hot Water Pump which will save me 12,000 gallons of water per year and $194.00 a year which is over double the financial savings of my annoying Moen Shower head and six times the water savings.

The irony is that I did a writeup on the Taco Smart Pump months ago and instead of doing that I chose to do a shower head. Why? Great question let’s go back to the start. The shower head was free, it installs in literally 5minutes and saves significant water. Unfortunately for me it sucks which is why I am removing my low flow water head and will instead invest 1 hour in my mechanical room to a Smart pump installation.

 

Will Ecobee Work on a WaterFurnace Intellizone? Yes & No

I have been asked this question many times and its a complicated question with a complicated answer. The question is: Will the ecobee work on an intellizone zoning system made by WaterFurnace?

The answer is yes… but it can also be no.

Lets start with an important disclaimer note: I do not speak for WaterFurnace and I do not speak for ecobee. I am relaying my own personal experience having helped install intellizones and ecobees. What worked for me may not work for you and I give you ZERO warranty on any and all statements within.

You screw-up your intellizone or your ecobee its on you! That said everything that I write hear you can verify on your own quite easily.

Does ecobee work on Intellizone?

I think the easiest way to answer this one is to simply point out on my own Intellizone I have ecobee thermostats and they work just fine.

So does ecobee work on Intellizone? Yes it does. Hundreds of WaterFurnace dealers across the United States and Canada are using them and you can bet if they were all having problems those of us who are HVAC nerds in the industry would have heard about it.

So then why are people complaining that it does  not work for them?

Although ecobee works on the Intellizone I have heard of 3 cases where it did not work. One of them I was able to resolve but the other two are still ‘on going’ cases which I am working on.

On the one that I was involved with directly and was able to resolve the symptom was that the ecobee was telling the intellizone to come on even though there was no actual heating call. Needless to say it was quite interesting to me and very irritating to the installer / consumer.

After doing a bit of investigating we discovered that the AC voltage powering the Intellizone was much higher than it would normally be. As soon as we discovered this we got thinking, what if its voltage leak across the relays causing the problem?

ecobee PotentiometerIn an effort to fix the problem we installed a potentiometer on the power going into the intellizone and dialed the voltage down and low and behold the problem went away.

A potentiometer /pɵˌtɛnʃiˈɒmɨtər/, informally a pot, is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding or rotating contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider.[1] If only two terminals are used, one end and the wiper, it acts as avariable resistor or rheostat. – Wikipedia

Now obviously not everyone is going to have a potentiometer much less know how to install one so I went back to the drawing board of ‘ideas’ on how to fix this voltage issue. We came up with all kinds of neat ‘MacGruber’ fixes but none of them are ones I want to particularly list in a blog post for fear of somebody completely annihilating their ecobee or zoning system

What we think was happening is that the over voltage of 27-29volts AC in to the intellizone was causing the Varistors on the ecobee to leak voltage and that small amount of voltage in some cases was enough to make the Intellizone come on.

I say in some cases it makes the intellizone come on because although we saw it in the field I was not able to reproduce the problem on my own intellizone with ecobee’s controlling it.

What ecobee is my best bet for Intellizone?

One of the things I like most about ecobee is the fact that they engage with their partners and when they found out that their might be an issue they jumped to find a way to address it;

In response to the issue the ecobee Engineering team made the following change;

A while ago we noticed that HVAC systems had supply voltages of 27-29VAC instead of the 24VAC standard. So we changed the Varistor from a 30VAC part to a 40VAC part.  This was only done on the Smart SI and EMS SI products.  Therefore, we believe newer Smart SI and EMS SI should not exhibit this issue with intellizone panels.

A Varistor is a protective device used on low-voltage ac circuits like the relays you will find in an ecobee to limit transient overvoltages and current. In a nut shell it protects the relays from burning which shortens their lives.

So if you want to use an ecobee on an intellizone your best bet is to order an ecobee SI model with the particular caveat that you want one that was made AFTER March 2013 which is about when ecobee upgraded the ecobee SI hardware to have a beefier varistor to address issues of HIGH voltage

With any luck this will help you with your Intellizone issues.

Remember ladies and gents, meddle at your own risk and be aware that in doing so you may void your manufacturer’s warranty in the process. 

5 Minute Project Can Save You 3,000 Gallons in Water

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I am all about saving a dollar and typically almost every renovation I do in my home involves energy savings, comfort or convenience. In the past I did an article on how you can save up to 12,000 Gallons of water every year and that leads to my latest water saving article.

Where as the last article was not a DIY project this one is definitely something anyone can do and best of all you can do it in under 5minutes.

What is the spectacular plan I put into implementation to save 3,000 gallons of water? I installed a low flow shower heard in my master bathroom.

I have had a low flow shower head sitting in my bedroom dresser for the better part of  a year waiting to be installed and it was time to put it to work finally. I decided today to not only install the shower head but to also do the math and figure out how much money this 5 minute upgrade will save me.

My original shower head was a Moen 2.5GPM shower head. My new shower head is once again a MOEN all be it of much cheaper construction and ‘Made in China’ but it has a flow rate of 1.5GPM.

In order to figure out how much water I am going to save and how much money that will translate into we need to know two things. How much I pay for my water and how long my showers are.

The water bill part I already calculated for a previous article. The total water bill including the ‘Basic Water Charge’ and the ‘Basic Treatment Charge’ is $121.56 which means my cost per gallon of water is $0.0159 cents.

Now I just need to know how long me and my wife shower for. I could always time her to find out how long she is in the shower but that would no doubt get me into endless trouble. So instead we are going to use a common statistic from HomeWaterWorks.org

In an average home, showers are typically the third largest water use after toilets and clothes washers. The average American shower uses 17.2 gallons (65.1 liters) and lasts for 8.2 minutes at average flow rate of 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm) (7.9 lpm).

Lets quickly do some math on this. With my old shower head the formula looks like so;

2.5GPM x 8.2 minutes = 20.5 gallons per shower * .0159 cents per gallon = 0.32595

So basically every shower that I take right now costs me 33 cents. Add my wife to the equation and between the two of us it costs 66 cents on average combined per day. Multiply that out by 7 days a week and you get $4.62 a week. Multiply that out by a year and you get $120.45 cents

So on average the wife and I cost $240.90 a year to maintain our hygiene with the old shower head. Lets see what that looks like now with the new shower head.

1.5 x 8.2 = 12.3 gallons per show * .0159 cents per gallon = 0.19557 cents per shower.

So now my cost per shower is down to 20 cents. Combine me and my wife and its 40 cents. Multiply that out over an entire year and its $146.00 a year in showering costs.

This 5 minute project to install a MOEN shower head that the city gave to me for free as part of a green initiative will save me up to $94.00 a year and on top of that it will save 2,993 gallons of water every year making me such a green fellow.

I have already figured out a away to double my savings and cut my water bill in half again. I just have to convince my wife that we should start showering together.

If you are looking for other green ideas read my article Saving $1,000 One Bulb at a time

Photo via

ClimateMaster iGate Looks to Revolutionize Geothermal

ClimateMaster has always been a leader in manufacturing geothermal heat pumps and now they are looking to significantly up their game with the release of the ClimateMaster iGate Technology.

iGate does not come as a huge shock to me because some time ago ClimateMaster partnered with ecobee the jedi knight of smart thermostats and everyone knew something ‘neat’ would come from that.

ClimateMaster iGate is the first step it seems in a healthy relationship between ecobee and ClimateMaster.  In an official release ClimateMaster reveals some fascinating information on the new iGate system;

“The online portal notably streamlines dealers’ customer support and equipment servicing, especially in allowing them to monitor and troubleshoot a unit from the comfort of their office or home,” Hiremath said.  “In many cases, diagnostics and adjustments through the online portal can eliminate jobsite visits, particularly in flagging system issues before they become larger problems.

None of that is really new but it’s still neat to see ClimateMaster capitalize on the value of ecobee’s homeIQ and dashboard.

ClimateMaster iGate Connect online portal - via ClimaterMaster.com
ClimateMaster iGate Connect online portal – via ClimaterMaster.com

Now before you go thinking that all ClimateMaster is doing is throwing their name on another cool product like so many manufacturer’s do you will want to read this next bit which is really impressive;

Featuring iGate Connect™ technology, the new Trilogy 45 Q-Mode is also the first residential geothermal heat pump system to provide dealers with complete diagnostics and operating data via any Wi-Fi enabled device over the internet.  Through an online portal, dealers can access built-in measurement of all critical system operations and conditions at the past 5-faults.  More than 25 unit settings can be configured from the dealer portal, including air-flows and range of unit capacity.

What does this mean? This means that contractors can not only see reporting data on the internet they can actually adjust settings on the equipment remotely.

One word.. wow!

That is going to be a huge timesaver on commissioning equipment.

The hardware on the new iGate controls, via ClimateMaster.com
The hardware on the new iGate controls, via ClimateMaster.com

As you can see from the drawing above ClimateMaster has taken the ecobee technology and modified it to act as a Gateway between their hardware and the online ClimateMaster Dealer portal. Well done!

Should be interesting to see where this goes as other geothermal heat pump manufacturers up their game.

Screenshots via ClimateMaster official brochure

ecobee3 Now For Sale at APPLE

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ecobee has seen the light and for them it is retail sales. Yesterday on LinkedIn they announced that the ecobee3 product is now available for purchase in apple stores and online at apple.com. This is not overly shocking given that ecobee started selling products direct on their website earlier this year.

This is a big move for ecobee whom in the past have sold their products through traditional wholesale HVAC distribution and contractors. They are clearly doing this in response to the huge success that NEST had going consumer direct and eventually selling to Google for the 1 Gazillion Dollars.

Did you hear the news? Our new ecobee3 smart thermostat is now in Apple stores and on apple.com Oh, and we’re now at the top of the Trending Now page on apple.com We’re pretty excited, – ecobee

In the end the move to sell ecobee direct to consumers will be a win for ecobee on the retail front but the question stands will wholesale distribution and HVAC contractors continue to support the product?

More importantly does ecobee really need HVAC distribution to find new success with the ecobee 3? I am highly biased but even I have to concede that ecobee should have a good go in retail sales if they are ready and willing to spend the money to build their brand.

That said I also think that ecobee has a sweet spot with wholesale HVAC distribution and even if it’s not quite where they want it abandoning it outright could be an opening for other companies.

Time will tell if selling on Apple brings better success then through contractors. Either way its a great company with great product and great people.

4 Ways ecobee Makes HVAC Better

I am a fanboy of ecobee and have been for many years. They have continued to innovate with new product but my passion for their product remains for a few core reasons and it’s not the device on the wall as much as the design and the software behind  it.

Not to mention the people who make up ecobee.

Stuart Lombard their founder has proven that having customers at the table is good for business and product development. Gus Provias who leads their inside technical team proves that bending over backwards to help the customer is never wrong and Jason MacKinnon the Sales Manager for Canada is single-handedly trying to bring back the man purse. ( Only joking he leads a dream team sales group ).

I have never been a fan of thermostats that are all sizzle and no substance and for me the ecobee Smart thermostat is near perfection when it comes to smart thermostats. Great team and great product has made the ‘ecobee Smart’ model the must buy thermostat for nerds and regular homeowners alike.

It is the thermostat I use in my own home and here are just a few reasons why.

Weather

I will never forget when the sales team showed me the ecobee for the first time and they talked up the ‘weather’ feature. My immediate reaction was ‘really? you think weather on a thermostat is a game changer?’. Wow did I eat my words. The most popular comment from consumers ( my wife and older son included ) is how awesome it is to know the weeks weather forecast without looking it up.

Do not be fooled into thinking the weather on your thermostat is a gimmick either. The weather data which is collected and logged for over a year is also used as part of the heating/cooling algorithm. Which thermostat is smarter? One that knows it is going to snow or one that doesn’t?. Weather is easily one of the greatest ecobee Smart features.

Idiot Proof Setup

How many times have you been presented with a new thermostat and struggled with how to wire it or program it? In our office the way I proved how simple it was to install was to hand it to one of our Accounting team ( who doesn’t own a thermostat at all ) and asked her to program it. Despite her dismay at the initial request she did it no problem, first try.

Idiot proof setup means that the thermostat is more likely to be used properly and although most contractors are not going to dump it on their customers to program it at least you know if they want to change a setting or two you don’t need a Masters in Engineering to figure it out.

It is Not Just a Thermostat

I am a nerd and just about every piece of hardware that comes across my desk I try to hack it. From internet enabling my radiant in floor system to hacking a WaterFurnace board to send email alerts if it goes offline. I just cant help myself it’s because I have spent my entire adult life writing code for industry leading companies.

The beauty of the ecobee smart thermostat is it is not just a thermostat. It has the ability for you to do all kinds of cool things with it. You can hookup a plethora of sensors including temperature, humidity, co2, dry contacts and zigbee. What does this mean? It means my thermostat can monitor my radiant infloor system, give me real-time power consumption of my home and also turn receptacle plugs on and off.

What other thermostat can do that without any hacking or modification?

HomeIQ

HomeIQ is a pretty solid name for ecobee’s DataRythm technology which collects thousands of data points including HVAC equipment type and historical run-times, weather, and the ongoing energy performance of your home to make intelligent, unique and personalized heating and cooling decisions for you.

Really I could have just done a list with one item HomeIQ on it but that wouldn’t be a list now would it? The reason that the ecobee smart thermostat can boast significant heating and cooling savings is summed up with one word ‘HomeIQ’.

I am always looking for new product and to date I have yet to find a thermostat that wows me like the ecobee Smart Thermostat. If you think you know of a product I should be looking at drop me a line because I want to hear from you. If you are in the market for  a smart thermostat pickup an ecobee Smart Thermostat.

Be clear in this article I am talking about a specific model the ‘Smart’. Not the ecobee3 or the SI. All are great products but the Smart is the one that rules them all!

ecobee smart thermostat